When it comes to mindfulness and meditation, you may think it takes years of training — or a spiritual journey — to derive any benefits. But the essence of the practice is actually quite simple, and its techniques can bring a little relief to many stressful situations, including travel.
“We’re talking about a sort of a slightly more sophisticated version of the advice that your mom gave you, when you were a kid, of ‘take a deep breath,’ ” said Dan Harris, the co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and the weekend edition of “Good Morning America” who has authored two books about mindfulness and meditation.
“You don’t have to believe in anything. It’s a really simple, secular exercise for your brain,” continued Mr. Harris, whose “10% Happier” smartphone app and podcast feature guided meditations.
According to the most recent National Health Interview Survey, more American adults are meditating than ever, with more than 14 percent saying they have practiced in the past year, up from 4.1 percent in 2012.
Given that one known effect of practicing mindfulness is the reduction of stress and anxiety, travelers could stand to benefit.
“There is strong research that shows that meditation can improve mental health,” said Dr. Megan Jones Bell, the chief science officer for the meditation app Headspace. “Meditation can help us learn to be more present, see ourselves and others from a new perspective, and approach life in a more engaged and peaceful way. This can all be really helpful during any part of our lives and especially during travel.”
Here are a few ways that practicing mindfulness can make your travels less stressful and more enjoyable.
What to do when stress and anxiety strike
Whether it’s the fear of flying or worrying about missing your next connection, many people feel anxiety when traveling.
“We can’t control if the plane is delayed, or if our luggage gets lost, or the traffic on the road, and meditation and mindfulness allows us to learn to accept the unknowns, and even embrace them,” said Dr. Bell.
First, focusing on your breathing can go a long way. If flying is a particularly stressful experience for you, Mr. Harris suggests putting aside a few minutes for this before takeoff, whether you’re waiting to board or buckled in your seat.
“Just tuning into your breathing or even taking a few deep breaths has physiological benefits, sending messages to your parasympathetic nervous system like, ‘O.K., relax, everything’s O.K.,” he said.
The idea is to consider your nervous thinking from a different perspective. “You realize that, ‘oh yeah, this is just the mental state of worry, and I can unhook from it, even if it’s just for a second, so that it doesn’t own me completely,’ ” Mr. Harris said.
Consider meditating regularly, even for a few minutes
To gain a better understanding of how mindful breathing and other meditative techniques can help, it’s best to practice them before your trip. If you can manage to develop something resembling a daily or regular habit, the effects tend to be greater.
“Any type of mindfulness exercise, whether one minute or 10 minutes, can help your mind and body,” said Dr. Bell, who recommends starting with a short exercise and then building from there.
For those who already meditate regularly, try not to judge yourself too harshly if you’re not able to maintain your usual schedule while traveling.
“You’re on vacation, do what you can,” Mr. Harris said. “Sneak it in here and there, but not in a way that’s going to make you or your partner or children miserable or uptight, because that’s just counterproductive.”
Reduce distractions and enjoy the moment
Mindfulness and meditation can also help you appreciate the destinations you’re exploring.
“Traveling is this discovery and exploration process, and meditation helps you tune out or resist the siren call of projection into the future or rumination about the past, all of which pulls you away from what is happening right now, which you paid all this money to experience,” Mr. Harris said.
The distractions that come from your smartphone, like social media feeds and the temptation to photograph every moment, can also take away from genuinely enjoying the moment, Mr. Harris explained.
“I’m not saying that it’s wrong to take a selfie or to tell your friends about it. What I’m saying is you probably want to up the enjoyment in the moment quotient and reduce the social status quotient,” he said.
If you’re struggling to be in the moment, Mr. Harris has a simple suggestion. Asking yourself “‘is this useful?’ can help unhook you from all of that,” he said.
“It’s not so much fighting this urge to do this stuff. It’s about seeing the urge and just letting it go and then that allows you to kind of seamlessly merge back into the moment you’re trying to enjoy.”
We have a new 52 Places traveler! Follow Sebastian Modak on Instagram as he travels the world, and discover more Travel coverage by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And if you sign up for our Travel Dispatch newsletter, each week you’ll receive tips on traveling smarter, stories on hot destinations and access to photos from all over the world.